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When Lawyers Make Mistakes

May 02, 2022 6:13 AM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

By:  Linda Sackey

Even the most conscientious lawyer can make a mistake. Unfortunately, as the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently observed in In re Cook Med., Inc., 27 F.4th 539 (7th Cir. 2022), some mistakes cannot be remedied and will doom the clients’ claims.

The attorney at issue here helped several clients file short-form complaints in the in the multidistrict litigation In re Cook Medical, Inc., IVC Filters Marketing, Sales Practices and Product Liability Litigation, where plaintiffs alleged that they were injured by defendants’ medical device. The district court’s case management order advised plaintiffs to submit a profile form with general personal and medical background information, along with details about their device and alleged injuries. If a plaintiff did not complete a profile form within the specified time frame, defendants could move to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim.

In May 2019, defendants informed the attorney that four of his clients had not submitted the required forms. Several weeks later, when the forms still had not been filed, defendants moved to dismiss. The attorney never responded to the motion. The district court dismissed the cases on July 19, 2019.

More than one year later, one of the clients told the attorney about the dismissal. On August 18, 2020, the attorney moved for reconsideration and reinstatement of the cases. According to the attorney, he did not receive notice of defendants’ motion to dismiss, and he delayed in moving for reconsideration because new filters on his inbox caused the dismissal order to be sent to his junk folder. The attorney sought relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1) and 60(b)(6).

The district court denied the attorney’s motion, finding it both untimely and meritless. In general, Rule 60(b) motions must be made within a “reasonable time.” And Rule 60(b)(1) in particular requires requests for reconsideration based on excusable neglect to be raised within one year of entry of judgment. In this case, the district court noted, plaintiffs sought reconsideration nearly 13 months after the order dismissing their cases. Thus, the court concluded that the motion was not brought within a reasonable time.

The district court also noted that “inexcusable attorney negligence is not an exceptional circumstance justifying relief” under either Rule 60(b)(1) or 60(b)(6). After determining that the attorney’s conduct fell within that category, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of the dismissal.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that the district court had acted within its discretion, and it affirmed the decision. The appellate court observed that the only stated ground for relief in plaintiffs’ Rule 60(b) motion was the attorney’s “neglect—his mishandling of the submission of his clients’ profile forms and, even more, his inattentive monitoring of both the docket and the email notifications from the district court.” The court determined that there was no showing of extraordinary circumstances that would warrant relief under Rule 60(b).

DISCLAIMER: The Appellate Lawyers Association does not provide legal services or legal advice. Discussions of legal principles and authority, including, but not limited to, constitutional provisions, statutes, legislative enactments, court rules, case law, and common-law doctrines are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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